Living on Adrenaline

Written by: Jorinde Berben
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Last Monday, I decided to take a walk in the forest instead of just going home and crashing on the couch. As I was walking, I noticed a sense of urgency in my steps. Somehow I couldn’t quite put my feet down hard enough on the ground, I couldn’t expend the amount of energy I really needed to get rid of. At the same time, my mind kept going in circles, thinking the same thought loops over and over again, eventually getting stuck on a small part of a song I couldn’t get out of my head, even when trying.

With my therapist, the next day, I discussed how hard it was to really let go of this tension and these thoughts. Whenever she suggests things like ‘calm the mind, play some soft music while you draw or do household chores,’ I can hear my mind going: ‘Boooooring!’ It’s as if my brain is constantly looking for the next bit of exciting information, the next juicy story, the next captivating fact. I’ve noticed how these bits of information, books, video’s, lectures give my mind a boost, keep it active and engaged.

With the stress of work mostly taken away right now (though the idea of going back causes a surge of panic at least once a day), my mind and body seem to resist the relaxation I so sorely need. Instead my brain is still hunting for that next adrenaline and dopamine kick.

Haven’t you lived on stress and adrenaline for a long time by now?’ my therapist gently wonders. ‘When did you start surviving instead of living?’ I try to go back in my mind to when I didn’t feel like I was trying to just keep my head above the water, to a time where I wasn’t worried about my life. I have to go back to before my son was born, over 7 years ago. Since my difficult pregnancy with him, the years with two kids at home during the day, working evenings and having a webshop on the side, then going into the biggest crisis of my life leading up to a divorce and trying to survive as a single parent afterwards… there haven’t been that many days in which I wasn’t worried about something, even if there were plenty of good moments in between as well.

And yes, I learned to thrive on the adrenaline that came from that kind of anxiety. There’s a certain amount of energy you can get from the things you have to do. And then the next thing you have to, and the next, and the next, and after a while, you don’t remember how it feels to have energy that’s not based on what you have to do, because those reservoires have long ago been depleted.

But as long as those adrenal glands keep pumping out their gold, you get the idea that you’re managing just fine. Sure, you’re often snappy and may collapse from time to time, but overall, you can keep most fires burning, even if just barely.

Now this is of course not a sustainable system. Our bodies can’t run on adrenaline forever. We get sick when we do and our energy just runs out. Ergo my current situation.

I don’t want to diss the adrenaline too much, either. It’s useful in emergencies or high pressure situations. I’ve been very thankful to it more than once. Now I just also need to find a way to detox from it, to find a way to relax.

As my mind keeps looking for something to bite into, my therapist and I decided on the following bone: my focus for the next few weeks will be to calm down my sympathetic nervous system. I’ve got a few tools to work with: mantra’s, breathing exercises, meditation and walks in nature. Yet, as I’ve already discovered in the two days since the session, it mostly comes down to catching myself going into stress-mode and trying to coax myself out of it afterwards.

Suggestions for calming activities are welcome too! I could do with some zen-hobbies.

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